“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Ephesians 4:31-32, The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version
Whenever I am feeling blue about the state of our world in general or the state of my life in particular, I watch a commercial for life insurance from Thailand. I know that seems random and a bit strange, but let me explain. Also known by the title, “The Unsung Hero,” this commercial is centered on a young man going about his daily life. He walks down a sidewalk, perhaps on his way to work or school, when water from a rain gutter above him splashes on his head. Instead of getting mad (which would have been my initial response), he sees a neglected plant on the sidewalk and moves it underneath the rainspout. As he continues on his way, he notices a street vendor, an older woman, struggling to push her heavy cart over the curb. He rushes over to help her. While he is eating his lunch, a stray dog watches him with hungry eyes. The young man shares his meal. In the next scene he stops in front of a woman and her little girl sitting on pieces of cardboard asking for money. A homemade sign reads, “For education.” He stops, looks at the bills in his wallet, and gives them all to the mother and daughter. In another shot the young man gives up his seat on the bus to a woman who is forced to stand. Every day he ties a bunch of bananas on the doorknob of an elderly neighbor. The various people who witness his tenderhearted actions shake their heads at his supposed foolishness. Yet these small acts of kindness effect change. In the end … well, I won’t spoil it. But I highly recommend that if you are able, you Google the commercial and view it for yourselves. It is well worth the watching.
To be honest, I do not quite understand the connection between the young man’s kind acts and life insurance. However, I don’t believe I need to. What moves me about the commercial is that this young man’s actions reflect a compassionate, tender heart. He goes out of his way to be kind. He makes kindness a habit. Although the word habit is not used in these two verses from the letter to the Ephesians, I wonder if that is not what is being implied. How often am I more inclined to wrangle, rather than put aside bitterness and malice toward another person? Has jaded contention, rather than kindness, become my habit?
There is a buzz about habits and habit formation at this time of year. The new hasn’t worn off of our New Year’s resolutions, and many of us have resolved to replace bad habits with good ones. The philosopher Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
If I want good health, then making wholesome lifestyle choices – from choosing healthy food to getting enough sleep – must become habitual. If I want to write a book or learn a new language, then I have to make discipline, not procrastination, a habit. Whatever actions I need to take to accomplish my goals, I must perform those actions repeatedly; until they become second-nature, until they become my habit. If this is true for healthy eating, then it must be true for kindness as well. If we take the admonitions to be kind to one another, tenderhearted with one another, seriously, then we must make kind choices and commit tenderhearted acts. Repeatedly. Kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness – all must be our habit. Who knows, perhaps small acts of kindness, done habitually, will result in large and wonderful love for others and for us. Yet even if we never see the full results of our tenderheartedness toward other people, isn’t kindness a good habit to have?